THERE IS CONCERN AMONG AUTO MAKERS that future generations of car buyers only will want soulless iPads with wheels, but the winners of this year's Ward's vehicle interior student design competition honored at the Ward's Automotive Interiors Conference suggest otherwise.

The students' thought-provoking designs for the year 2020 do indeed borrow ideas from iPads, smartphones and video games. But they also incorporate concepts inspired by nature to create functional, fun and emotional interiors.

Haneif Katebi wins both the Grand Award and the Lear Design Innovation Award for his interior concept. Bozenka Shepherd wins the IAC EcoBlend award given to the student whose design or concept best utilizes lightweight renewable/recyclable materials.

Katebi patterned his interior concept after the pitcher plant, a carnivorous plant that partially engulfs its food. The cockpit surrounds the driver and allows him or her to focus on the road while limiting distraction.

The judges also were impressed with Katebi's innovative, yet relatively simple idea for controlling vehicle functions.

Organic, lightweight, natural and emotional are the key words Shepherd focused on when she created her interior concept. The design features recycled and refurbished wood and “vegan leather” that is not made from animal products for all seating surfaces.

Each of the winners receive scholarships to help fund their education.

The other finalists for the awards were Andrew Bianchi, M. (Ross) Gray and Leonard Takada.

The winners and finalists were selected by three top auto industry designers: Robert Gelardi, manager of North American design at Ford; Dan Vivian, director-engineering design, Hyundai-Kia Motors N.A.; and Peter Davis, chief stylist at Tata Technologies.

The awards culminate a project for which Ward's partnered with interior suppliers IAC and Lear to sponsor a design competition with students from the Transportation Design Department of the College for Creative Studies in Detroit.

Under the supervision of CCS instructor Clyde Foles, Generation Y students were challenged to create a vehicle interior for an active, young professional in the next decade.

The target customer is a 25-year-old male or female college graduate making $50,000 a year and a big believer in staying connected all the time with the latest social-media technologies.

The 7-week class project encouraged students to use their imaginations and integrate “green ideas” wherever they could, but also to consider real-world constraints regarding vehicle size, cost and fuel efficiency.

For complete conference coverage, go to AutoInteriors.com